Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

Audio Book Review

Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

Steven D. Levitt is an economist at the University of Chicago who is more interested in economic choices and

decision-making psychology than in dusty macroeconomic studies, stock market forecasts, or inflation research.

In his own words, his main interests are fraud, corruption, and crime. This is good, but it is unlikely that academic

studies will make a good audiobook because the technical material, especially mathematics, is not well laid out in the field of audiobooks.

Fortunately, his co-author Stephen Dubner (a journalist who also reads this audiobook) is well versed in presenting

complex economic statistics in plain and plain English. So the book is engaging to listen to and very suitable for the

format. It’s an unabridged, unaltered (as far as I could tell) reading of a 7-hour original printed book published by a


Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

Audio Book Review
Audio Book Review

He addresses a variety of questions, such as whether sumo wrestlers cheat (apparently they do), more controversial

questions, such as whether legalizing abortion prevented a wave of crime in the 1990s. The results are presented with

some certainty, which is probably not appropriate for an academic text, but it makes the book much more interesting!

There are nine sections, each similar. There is an eye-catching title issue that embodies or raises the question of a

problem of our time and that has probably already received a great deal of media discussion and attention. It is all

the more likely that the wisdom obtained in answering the question, which consists of a slanted and self-censored

the attitude of the media is completely inaccurate. This summary makes the book sound like a collection of a million

other journalistic articles in which a fearless, insane investigator brings you the “hidden truth behind x”. But keep in

Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

mind, it gets more interesting for two reasons: 1. The questions are sometimes unexpected (what do school teachers

and sumo wrestlers have in common?) And interesting in themselves. 2. There is some difficult scientific analysis to

support the proposed alternative approach. The book seeks to show the real behavior of people, not the behavior

provided by the moral system we supposedly sign. In many ways, it succeeds, much more than you expected.

It’s not easy to pinpoint the reasons why a book is less satisfactory, but we’ll try to do that briefly in the review. Let’s

look at Chapter 1 (about Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers). Some methods for detecting fraudulent Chicago teachers

based on various data-driven algorithms applied to answer sheets by observing the same class each year are

Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

Statistical tests used to detect fraud look

for suspicious student response patterns (e.g., many simple questions are false but difficult – correct, many students

give the same incorrect answer (because the teacher does not know the correct answer), or performance fluctuates

rapidly each year).

betting purposes. And in fact, an analysis of the sumo wrestlers ’performance shows that they often trade at a loss

when it’s very important to the winner, but less so to the loser (for example, he’s already qualified for the next round

of the tournament). Concluding the chapter, Levitt, based on data provided by a man who sold rolls in an honor

Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

system, states that “people are honest in 87% of cases,” even if no one is watching. So certainly not everyone is

crooked, but sumo wrestlers cheated only when it was “irrelevant” in the sense that the final result of the

competition was not affected. However, this was not done by Chicago teachers, who were undermining the

entire system for the sake of gain. So the parallel is not accurate in this case. The deepest thing that is perhaps very

important to the shortcomings of the books is that the fraudsters could only be detected based on statistics

collected from people, most of whom did not cheat. If we cannot make this assumption, the whole data set becomes

Audio Book Review – Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen

meaningless. So the “most people are honest” premise is not only necessary for public morality to make sense, but also has the hope of understanding the data!

Perhaps the statistical weakness of the book is that the latter point is not clear enough. There are also problems with

For example, it is possible to clearly and accurately

estimate the proportion of the United States population with measles, which is a closed area with all the facts

Other thoughts

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